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Life is Strange – Chaos Theory: The Review

Developers: Dontnod Entertainment

Publishers: Square Enix

Plot: Spurned on by Kate Marsh’s plight, Max and Chloe break into the school after hours in a desperate bid to find some much-needed answers.

It is no secret that I am not as taken with Life is Strange as the rest of the gaming community. It’s not that I don’t like it. I look as forward to the next episode of this gaming series as much as the next progressive gaming fan, but as I look around at the other reviews of how incredible this universe or how gripping the story is, I always feel like I am missing out on something major in the series. Admittedly, I am falling in love with Life is Strange that little bit more each month. This is mainly to do with the fact that it is starting to become endearing through its flaws. Take the one pitfall that everyone can agree has totally missed the mark with this game: the god awful slang. Every kid in this game talks with a vocabulary that deserves a punch in the face. However, as we get the usual face-palm expressions (“Come on, Max. Let’s jet!” said no one but Chloe for the last decade or two), it actually becomes something we look forward to. The game begins parodying its use of ‘hella’ and would it really be the same fun if Max doesn’t scream cowabunga at the top of her lungs, as she dives into a swimming pool? Probably not. Like it or not, Life is Strange is defined by its terrible dialogue and I need to get on board with embracing it. The same goes for the soundtrack. I have slated it before, but it is slightly absent in this episode, helping hit the dreary mood Chaos Theory is going for and its disappearance is felt. Therefore it is hard to distinguish if this game is getting better or if I am awakening to its charms at last. Of course, for those, still not won over by the flaws, Life is Strange still boasts its definite positives with ease. The movie references come thick and fast, the wider universe is beautiful and the attention to detail is worthy of praise. Seeing as we are no closer to the answer of ‘is this the best episode yet?’, it is probably better to abandon the general positives and negatives of the overall game and dive into this month’s narrative.

This time around, the pacing goes for something a little different. With the last two episodes, the narrative was broken into segments. We would begin with Max’s life at Blackwell academy, slowly developing the world around her and the various students, before cutting away to outside of the school, namely to Chloe. The episode would end wherever the cliff-hanger was due to take place in that current month. Episode Three shrugs off this format and goes for something a little more in-depth. 70% of this episode is spent in the academy after hours, as you and Chloe break in to dig up dirt on Nathan, uncover the Kate Marsh conspiracy and perhaps find some clues as to what happened to Rachel Amber. As a result, we strip away the fun, but distracting mini-arcs, like Dana’s pregnancy and Warren’s crush (reduced to background references, so their absence isn’t sloppy), and are allowed to focus on a) the mystery at hand and b) the development between Max and Chloe’s relationship. Fans of the game will love this exploration of the two characters, as we get deeper into what makes them tick. Chloe, in particular, is always fun to watch, going from the most likeable character with her pop culture references and ‘seize the day’ attitude to that volatile, stubborn teenager. When one twist is dropped, her breakdown gets in the way of solving that strand of story, which is interesting, especially as I was worried Chloe’s character would end up becoming a little too two-dimensional, made fan-friendly by nervous producers not wanting the players to reject a character choice they didn’t side with. The game also seems to be sliding down a lesbian relationship angle, without ever fully embracing it. Right now Max and Chloe (as well as Chloe and Rachel), come across as best girl friends and as new events crop up, it just about stays on that balance, causing only a few raised eyebrows. One scene in a swimming pool is bound to cause havoc on the forums from homophobic gamers or immature teens. I quite like that this is kept in the player’s mind for the time being, as it means that Max’s relationship with Chloe can be whatever you want it to be. Sure, perhaps some people quite like the idea of the two leads finding solace in some form of love together. At the same time, I am finding myself in the camp that it is, at the moment, an unnecessary road to go down for the story, as the best friend dynamic is fine as it is. On the other hand, Chloe and Rachel having a forbidden love dials the mystery element up dramatically.

So yes, this is an episode dedicated solely to characterisation. This will probably have people claiming it to be the best episode yet online. However, I am still getting a little frustrated that Life is Strange is refusing to develop its mystery anymore. If Episode Two had progressed a little further with the story, then perhaps I would be more willing to take a little break and have a slower episode, dedicated to Max and Chloe, but because my interest is more captivated by Rachel Amber’s disappearance, then I am, again, left unsatisfied with the experience. The game flirts with answers, as you break into the principal’s office and go through his files. However, when you end the game and look back over what you have learnt, you might find yourself realising that you haven’t progressed as much as you assumed you had. Yes, you nabbed that top secret file, but all it told you that Nathan Prescott was a dick – we already knew that. In fact, the one twist worth tuning into this episode for is buried in Frank’s (the nasty-looking drug dealer with the carnivorous dog) caravan, which definitely opens up some new suggestions as to what happened to Rachel Amber. That being said, it’s not quite enough. It still feels like Life is Strange is stuck on the starting line, not quite prepared to do everything it is capable of doing. On the other hand, a last minute set-piece ripped straight from the butterfly effect does suggest that Episode Four could be ground-breaking.

Final Verdict: Life is Strange refuses to develop its story, yet when it comes to characterisation, it is just as beautifully told as ever.

Three Stars